Baldry: Controversial or not, Wie was right choice for U.S.

Morgan Pressel (left) and Michelle Wie share a laugh during a team photo shoot prior to the 2013 Solheim Cup at Colorado Golf Club.

PARKER, Colo. – Michelle Wie was the right pick. No matter what happens this week in Colorado, know that what Wie brings to the table – no matter how unorthodox – is good for Team USA and the LPGA. Wie needs the Solheim Cup as much as the cup needs her.

Given the fact that Wie hasn’t come anywhere near winning a tournament in recent years says more about the depth of the American game than it does about the one-time Hawaiian prodigy. Only three Americans have won on tour this year, so it’s not as if Wie was picked over a host of more qualified candidates.

Jennifer Johnson, the winner in Mobile, was the one who lost out. But Johnson has had an up-and-down season, and her ability to thrive on a pressure-packed stage is an unknown. For Wie, it’s everyday life.

“Walking into this environment is not going to affect her,” U.S. captain Meg Mallon said.

There’s also much to be said for team chemistry, and the outgoing, long-bombing Gerina Piller (the second captain’s pick) has Johnson beat in that category. Ten minutes with both players and it’s obvious who would fit in more easily. This is a team event. There’s a lot to be said for what can’t be broken down in column and after column of minutia.

Wie’s pick is undoubtedly controversial. That unorthodox putting posture alone calls into question her current ability to make putts in key moments. It wreaks of desperation.

But assistant captain Dottie Pepper points to numbers as proof of a marked improvement. Wie finished 2012 ranked 119th in putting; this season, she’s tied for 56th.

Wie has improved a full putting stroke per round and almost a full birdie per round.

The Stanford graduate said she always has been uncomfortably tall over her putts, so late last year she decided to get lower to the ground. She immediately started putting better but didn’t look at herself in a mirror or see photographs of the 90-degree bend, known on tour as “table-topping.”

“I think that if you walked up to any professional golfer and you give them a choice between looking cool and making putts,” Wie said, ”I’m pretty sure everyone’s going to say, making putts.”

Those who watched the 2009 Solheim Cup remember a confident Wie on the greens. Captain Beth Daniel picked Wie for that team, and Wie left Rich Harvest Farms as the most valuable player. It was a coming-out party of sorts for the youngster, who bonded with players in a way she’d never done before. Many players got to know her for the first time, and they liked the young woman who, for many years, had stolen their spotlight and played by another set of rules. For the first time, Wie belonged.

“Solheim Cup means the world to me,” Wie said Wednesday, looking very spirited in her knee-high stars-and-stripes socks.

Stacy Lewis, for one, wasn’t at all surprised by Mallon’s pick.

“I think that part of your decision is, who can play as a captain’s pick?” Lewis said. “Because there’s pressure there. I think that Michelle can handle that.”

Some of Wie’s best moments as a professional happened at the Solheim Cup. At Rich Harvest Farms, she delivered the “wow” factor that her early years had promised.

Wie’s love of this event is genuine, and when Mallon delivered the news to her two weeks ago at the Ricoh Women’s British Open, the 6-footer cried so hard that her contacts popped out.

Mallon advised Wie to avoid reading any Solheim commentary. She obliged.

“I’m just so happy to be here,” Wie said, “that I frankly don’t really care.”

Wie has made a career of that, religiously avoiding the media. She doesn’t read about golf; she doesn’t watch it. But when she does accidentally come across something (likely on social media), she concedes it’s hard.

“I’m not going to lie and say it’s rainbows and sunshine every day,” she said. “It’s tough being a professional golfer, but it comes with the territory.”

Plus, there are perks. Such as living out another dream.

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